Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 3, 2016

One Town; Two Master Architects

San Luis Obispo, California is one of the oldest communities in California, founded in 1772 by the Spanish missionary expedition headed by Junipero Serra. The county seat of San Luis Obispo County and the home of California Polytechnic State University, SLO (as it’s known) is an attractive, busy town, with a lot to offer visitors in the way of culture, food and notable architecture. It’s about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, halfway to San Francisco, in the upper left corner of this map:

SLO-LA map

The earliest buildings, ca. 1772, are the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in the center of town.

IMG_3571 Mission San Luis Brad Nixon

In this article, though, I’ll write about two smaller structures designed in the middle of the 20th Century by two of the most prominent and prolific American architects of the era.

Drive just two blocks southeast of the core of downtown along Santa Rosa St., and you’ll slam on your brakes when you spot this building on the northeast corner of the intersection with Pacific.

IMG_3646Kundert Bldg Brad Nixon

“The work of The Master,” you’ll say; “Unmistakably!” And you’ll be correct.

IMG_3647 Kundert Bldg Brad Nixon

Not only is that a Frank Lloyd Wright design, but one of only a few of his commercial buildings ever built. It was commissioned by cardiologist Karl Kundert, opened 1956, and still serves as a doctor’s office (although a different doctor). Its referred to in the Wright oeuvre as the Kundert Medical Clinic.

(By the way, that ghastly clump of vegetation on the entry wall is NOT part of Wright’s design. There are photos extant of the building without it. I humbly advise the owners to eliminate it.)

It has a typical Wrightian L-shaped floor plan, and a pleasant patio on the reverse side, with large windows providing a view from the patients’ lounge.

IMG_3948 Kundert Bldg Marcy Vincent

It’s one of Wright’s last designs (he died in 1959). Photos at the link above and elsewhere show an interior as striking as the exterior. I didn’t have an appointment, and, since it is a medical practice, I didn’t attempt to walk in and interrupt what is, after all, an enterprise whose patients should be accorded some privacy. Another time, I hope.

The wooden cutouts on the clerestory windows are classic Wright.

IMG_3640Kundert Bldg Brad Nixon

Although certainly not Wright’s touch, someone has cleverly mimicked the cutouts on the doors of the dumpster enclosure, on the right.

IMG_3950 Kundert Bldg Marcy Vincent

In a contrasting style, dating from 20 years earlier, you’ll spot this tidy example of 1930s Arts and Crafts design less than half a mile away, wedged amongst a line of motels and businesses on busy Monterey St.

IMG_3534 Monday Club Brad Nixon

You probably won’t recognize the architect by her work, but that name on the sign tells you it was designed by Julia Morgan.

IMG_3516 SLO Monday Club Brad Nixon

Ms. Morgan was an almost exact contemporary of Wright’s, 3 years younger. She was the first woman to be licensed as an architect by the State of California and the first woman admitted to study architecture at l’Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. You know her work by one astoundingly notable example, if for none of the other 700 projects she designed: William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantata, Hearst Castle, about 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo.

This building is the home of The Monday Club, a women’s philanthropic organization founded in 1925 and still thriving. The club commissioned Julia Morgan to design its headquarters, and the building was constructed in 1933–34.

IMG_3677 SLO Monday Club  Brad Nixon

The building and grounds are immaculately maintained and beautifully landscaped. Those are Coast Redwoods standing in front. In the rear is a compact garden with a view of the hills that surround SLO.

IMG_3817 SLO Monday Club Marcy Vincent

I especially appreciated the straightforward way in which Ms. Morgan let the fundamental building blocks of architecture — post and lintel — play out at the front corners of the building.

IMG_3531 Brad Nixon

Unfortunately, the timing of our visit during a holiday weekend didn’t allow us to see the interior, but it is open for tours. CLICK HERE for the information on The Monday Club website. It’s certain to be worth a look inside.

What’s there to see when one travels? In a small city in California, a ten minute walk from one another, are buildings by two giants of modern architecture: the egregiously self-promoting and egotistical Wright and the reclusive, self-effacing Morgan. Look around when you travel. You never know what you’ll see.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017. Some photos © Marcy Vincent, as indicated, used by kind permission.



  1. I love reading all about your adventures and seeing all the beautiful photos you post! I have nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog” Award.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much. I hope you’ll be pleased that the recent SLO trip produced a library-related post that will run next week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I look forward to reading it!


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